When life has put stumbling blocks in front of Batsheva Gabai, she has turned to cooking for comfort and satisfaction.
Born in the small village of Telwat, Morocco, in 1950, Batsheva and her family dreamed of moving to Israel, inspired by shlichim, emissaries from the country who visited Jewish communities in Morocco to encourage aliyah (immigration).
However, the journey from North Africa was not an easy one.
From Telwat, the family traveled to Marrakesh, spending six months there and experiencing a frightening incident in which Batsheva’s two-year-old cousin was briefly kidnapped during a period of many kidnappings of children. Fortunately, the child was found and returned by a neighbor’s son.
Following that incident, the family moved from Marrakesh to Casablanca and lived in a transit camp for three months. The journey continued by ship to France, where they spent her mother’s last month of pregnancy. Once the baby was born, the family continued by ship to Israel.
The family arrived in Israel and settled in a hut on a moshav, a small agricultural cooperative village. Batsheva’s father eventually went to work in the agricultural sector in the moshav of Tirosh.
Today, Batsheva lives in the village of Gefen in the Mateh Yehuda region of Israel. Married at the age of 23 to a classmate, Batsheva and her husband had four children—two daughters and two sons, who are all grown now. About a decade ago, Batsheva’s husband was tragically killed in a car accident.
Before she was married, Batsheva worked as a cook in an elementary school, and these days she has returned to that “first love”—food and cooking—which continues to sustain and inspire her. She participates in the annual Beit Shemesh-Mateh Yehuda ethnic food festival and has a small catering business. The Moroccan celebration of Mimouna at the end of Passover gives her an additional chance to showcase her cooking. Mimouna is a culinary feast featuring endless varieties of sweets including the famous mufleta, a leavened, fried sweet dough.
Batsheva’s real dream, however, is to open her own restaurant where she can develop, feature and share her own creations. So far, the lack of resources has kept this dream just beyond reach, but, as in the case of the many other challenges Batsheva has faced in life, cooking continues to nourish and inspire her.